Thee Oh Sees is an American psychedelic rock band from San Francisco, California, formed in 1997. The band currently consists of primary songwriter and core member John Dwyer (vocals, guitar), Timothy Hellman (bass) and Nick Murray (drums).
Initially an outlet for Dwyer (Coachwhips, Pink and Brown, Yikes and The Hospitals) to release experimental home recordings, over the course of several releases and genre transitions, Thee Oh Sees evolved into a full band, featuring Brigid Dawson (vocals, keyboard), Petey Dammit! (bass, guitar), Mike Shoun (drums), and Lars Finberg (drums, guitar). The band became noted for their prolific discography, energetic live shows, and whimsical visual aesthetic. The band has changed its lineup and name several times, having previously being known as Orinoka Crash Suite, OCS, Orange County Sound, and The Ohsees.
In late 2013, it was announced that the band was entering a hiatus, however, sporadic live performances and a new studio album, Drop (2014), have occurred since. In May 2014, the band began to tour as a trio, with the addition of Nick Murray and Timothy Hellman, performing in absence place of Dawson, Dammit, and Shoun.
Early years and solo recordings (1997-2004):
John Dwyer began using the name "Orinoka Crash Suite" for songs as early as 1997, appearing on compilations many years before using it for full length releases. During this period between before the first OCS album, he continued to focus on his primary bands, first with Pink and Brown, and later with Zeigenbock Kopf and Coachwhips. In all three groups, Dwyer was the main vocalist, and in Coachwhips and Pink and Brown, he also played guitar.
The first album, simply titled 1, was released in 2003 as the first full album under the OCS name. The first disc was based around acoustic songs, and was individually referred to as 34 Reasons Why Life Goes On Without You. The second disc was a series of "noise" tracks called 18 Reasons To Love Your Hater To Death. None of the songs on either disc have titles. The album's song credits are mostly attributed to John Dwyer, though three are credited to Jeff Rosenberg, who was the drummer under the pseudonym "Brown" in Pink and Brown. The album features several guest musicians, but no one who would continue on to the next album, entitled 2.
2 was released in 2004, and was made in a similar fashion to 1, but with a greater focus on Dwyer as a solo performer.
First transitional period and lineup changes (2005-2007):
The band slowly transitioned from being Dwyer's side project into his primary group, as his other bands Coachwhips and Zeigenbock Kopf both disbanded during this period (2005 and 2006, respectively).
OCS became a two-piece with the addition of Patrick Mullins who played percussion and saw. The arrangements continued to be simple, though bolstered by the addition of Mullins. 3 - Songs About Death & Dying Vol. 3 and 4 - Get Stoved was released as a two CD set in 2005.3 was available both as part of this set, and as an individual vinyl release. 4 did not see a vinyl issue until 2008.
Brigid Dawson was previously a member of the duo Mix Tape with Meric Long of The Dodos. She had been working in a coffee shop in San Francisco, and would frequently see Dwyer visit the shop and put up flyers for his upcoming shows. The two became fast friends, and Dwyer eventually asked Dawson to join the band after seeing one of her shows. Her role includes duet/backing vocals, keyboards, and tambourine. Dawson will occasionally perform lead vocals (in the cases of "Invitation" on Sucks Blood and "What Are We Craving?" on Castlemania).
As a trio, the band released Cool Death of Island Raiders in 2006, the first release under the name The OhSees. The album featured guest guitar and vocals from Kyp Malone of TV On The Radio.
Petey Dammit joined the group in 2007, as a bassist and occasionally second guitarist. Dammit was previously a member of the two-piece band Tres Ferocious. John Dwyer was familiar with the band's work, and asked him to join when he was looking to expand the lineup of The Ohsees. Dammit's bass playing uncharacteristically involves using an ordinary electric guitar that is fed through an electronic device that makes it sound like a bass guitar. His method of doing this is intentionally kept a secret. Dammit typically favors Fender Jazzmaster guitars for this task, but in Thee Hounds of Foggy Notion, he is also seen using a blue Italia Mondial without this manipulation, for songs that were not recorded with a bass guitar.
The album Sucks Blood followed in 2007. It would be the final studio album to feature Patrick Mullins, but he would appear later in the live DVD/album Thee Hounds Of Foggy Notion that was released in 2008. Mullins moved to Louisville, Kentucky and in 2010 he released a solo album called Don't Go To Sleep.
Jigmae Baer played for a year as the group's drummer after Mullin had left the band. He recorded with the band for their Tascam 388 recordings, as well as their sessions with Dave Sitek. His work can be heard on Sucks Blood, The Master's Bedroom is Worth Spending a Night In, and various 7" and 10"s releases during this period. Baer went on to play with Ty Segall in both his solo act and in The Perverts. Baer then founded the Royal Baths and currently is a founding member of LODRO.
Mike Shoun joined the band as the new drummer after Baer's departure. Shoun's arrival coincided with the band's change into a louder garage punk based sound.
Garage, psychedelia, and punk (2008-2013):
With the new four-piece lineup established, the scope of the bands music and success started to increase. The Master's Bedroom is Worth Spending a Night In was released in 2008, under the current name Thee Oh Sees. This album is also notable for being the first collaboration with Chris Woodhouse, a mix engineer and guest musician who would continue to appear on the albums that followed. The band released their album Help in 2009. This was their first album released on In the Red Records, the label for most of their main released up until 2013. The EP Dog Poison was also released this year, an acoustic take on the newer, more upbeat sound of the band.
Warm Slime arrived in 2010, following strongly in the footsteps of Help. The album's first side is dominated by the title track, their longest song to date, with a running time of 13:30. The song's long format and repetitive structure foreshadowed the krautrock influence that would become a larger part of their sound in the new decade.
On April 28, 2011, Patrick Mullins rejoined the band for a one-off performance at the Cafe Du Nord in their hometown of San Francisco. The band played songs from the albums 4 through The Master's Bedroom is Worth Spending a Night In. Most these songs had not been included in the setlists for some time.
The recording of 2011's Castlemania was solely undertaken by John Dwyer and Brigid Dawson and a series of other notable musicians. Petey Dammit and Mike Shoun would record on the year's latter album Carrion Crawler/The Dream along with new member Lars Finberg (from The Intelligence). Finberg joined as a full-time second drummer and second guitar player, but continues to lead and tour with The Intelligence. Dawson and Dwyer approached 2012's Putrifiers II in a similar manner as the group recorded Castlemania.
In 2011, the band's single "Tidal Wave" was featured in the pool scene of the episode "Salud" (Season 4, Episode 10) of the television series, Breaking Bad. In 2013, "The Dream", from Carrion Crawler/The Dream was included in the soundtrack for the video game Grand Theft Auto V.
On April 16, 2013, The band released Floating Coffin. The album was released on Castle Face Records, a label that John Dwyer co-owns with Brian Lee Hughes and Matt Jones. The album was the first since The Master's Bedroom... to be self-released. Later that year, they released the Moon Sick EP, a collection of four songs from the Floating Coffin sessions that were excluded from the album. The EP was released as a benefit for Healthy San Francisco, a healthcare organization that had aided Dwyer and his friends over the years.
Second transitional period (2013-present):
On December 18, 2013 during a show at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall, Dwyer announced to the crowd "This will be the last Oh Sees show for a long while. So dig in."
In an interview with SF Weekly, the band's tour manager Annie Southworth confirmed the news, noting that Dwyer was looking to take some time off as he made the move from San Francisco to Los Angeles. She added, "They need a break after 5 years straight, so yes ... hiatus time. Will be a little hard to continue with all the different locales so who know what is going to happen... Cross fingers, we all are that it's not completely over."
The statements led to rumors that the band was entering an indefinite hiatus, or breaking up. On December 20, 2013, the band cleared the rumors by posting on their official site that a new LP will be coming in early 2014, and "we will see where the live shows go from there." On February 12, it was announced that the album, entitled Drop, would be released on April 19 through Castle Face Records. It was created by John Dwyer and Chris Woodhouse, similar to the creation of previous Thee Oh Sees albums like Putrifiers II, Dog Poison, and Castlemania.
Bridget Dawson relocated to San Marin, CA, where she continues to paint and exhibit artwork Mike Shoun & Petey Dammit have remained in the bay area. Dammit appeared as the bassist on Dylan Shearer's Empty Cellar Records/Castle Face release garagearray, released on April 15, 2014.
Since the dispersal of the band members, the band's live performances have been as a trio, with drummer Nick Murray, and bassist Timothy Hellman. Brigid Dawson's roles as a vocalist and keyboardist have not been filled. John Dwyer explained the reason for the latter in an interview with Uncut magazine: "The future of the band doesn't hold much keyboard, I want to go more guitar. I'll still record with a keyboard but I'm burned out with it live. I've been getting trapped into synthesizer land, I'm just surrounded by drum machines and keyboards while all my rock and roll stuff is in another studio." Brookyln Vegan noted that while the band is currently touring as a trio, this should not be considered a permanent, "official" lineup change.
With the release of the new album, the status of the band's hiatus was called into question. Dwyer did not directly answer, but did mention that he declined to participate in the situation that arose over social media.
In a September 2012 interview with New York Music News, Petey Dammit explained the band's philosophy on recording:
We work hard. I think it seems strange for us to release so many records because of the tradition in the recording industry to do things a certain way. For decades it has been months and months in the studio, one release a year, tour this, tour that, do this, do that... We just do what we want to do. Most of the songs have been worked out by the time we get to the studio so we can record them all live in two days. The other two days in the studio are having fun writing on the spot and having fun.
Current touring line-up:
John Dwyer - vocals, guitar (1997-present),
Nick Murray - drums (2014-present),
Timothy Hellman - bass (2014-present),
John Dwyer - vocals, guitar,
Brigid Dawson - vocals, keyboards,
Petey Dammit! - bass, guitar,
Mike Shoun - drums,
Patrick Mullins (of Burmese) - drums, saws, etc. (on 3, 4, Cool Death of Island Raiders, Sucks Blood),
Jigmae Baer (of LODRO, Royal Baths) - drums (Sucks Blood, Masters Bedroom, and more),
Lars Finberg - drums, guitar, vocals